A farm accident a month ago nearly claimed the life of longtime Virginia horsewoman Tinker Lyman. A benefit auction and dinner is planned Sunday, June 27 near Culpeper, a party Lyman says she expects to attend. “I’m thankful for the chance,” she said in a recent interview. “I’m completely humbled by the outpouring of support from the community, my friends and family.”
Lyman said she’s not actually sure exactly what happened to put her face down on the ground outside her barn, her face crushed, her leg mangled and her airway dangerously blocked. Whatever caused the accident, she’s certain of one thing: Washington contractor Steve Critzer is her “guardian angel.”
It was a normal morning on the farm, Tinker Lyman said. Busy as always, she’d taken the day off work to meet Critzer at her Gid Brown Hollow property, “to get a few of those bigger jobs” done, things Lyman said were on her “list of stuff I couldn’t do by myself.”
Critzer was there early that day, ready to move some gravel to improve drainage around Lyman’s barn and handle some small repairs around the farm. He was getting tools from the house, Lyman figures, nearby when “something” happened while she was bringing her horses in from the pasture to the barn. “If he wasn’t there, I’d be dead.”
She recalls going to bring her two horses — quiet, gentle, veteran foxhunters — into the stableyard. After that, though, her memory is blank. She’s able to piece together what must have happened, but otherwise, what happened next is anybody’s guess.
“All I remember was that I had that full day of farm chores planned,” said Lyman, who, at age 60, has spent more than 40 years in the horse business. She’d taken that Thursday off work at Blue Ridge Trailer Sales in Ruckersville to work through the “list of stuff that you never get done.” It was May 20, a warm, sunny Thursday that was perfect for tackling the never-ending chores that come from running a horse farm.
While she was opening, or perhaps shutting, the gate from the pasture, one or both of the horses must have knocked her down in the gravel barn lot. Perhaps something spooked one of them, Lyman said, causing them to careen forward into her, or maybe the gate knocked into their hindquarters, making one of them pivot unexpectedly. “I wonder if it might have been a bear,” she ventured, noting that a neighbor reported seeing a big bear a few days later, and Lyman herself recently saw one in her pasture. “It could have been anything,” she said.
Whatever the case, the result was every horseman’s nightmare.
Lyman was down, unconscious on the ground, unable to breathe, with two horses loose in the small enclosure. Had she been alone on the farm — as she often is — it may have been hours, if not days, before she was discovered.
Critzer “heard the commotion and went to see what was wrong.” What he found was horrifying, but it moved him to action.
Lyman was lying, face down, in a growing pool of blood. Her right leg, broken in three places, was at a grotesque angle, her left arm splayed out. Most distressing was that she was unable to breathe, her mouth full of gravel and face contorted from a broken jaw and eye sockets.
Working quickly, Critzer gently turned Lyman over, clearing her airway and helping her begin breathing again on her own. Another worker called 911 and held a tarp over her to screen the bright morning sun. They did not move her for fear of spinal involvement.
Rescue squads from both Sperryville and Washington responded. A Washington crew transported Lyman to Fauquier Hospital in Warrenton, where a medical helicopter was summoned to transport Lyman to Inova Fairfax’s trauma unit.
“Next thing I consciously remember was 9 p.m. Friday night,” Lyman said. “Not that I could see the clock, mind you. But I guess I sort of woke up, and asked what time it was. Someone in the (hospital) room said it was 9 at night. I lost a day and a half.”
Lyman agrees, though, that it was a small price to pay.
Injuries included her right leg broken in three places, both eye sockets crushed, her jaw smashed and her cheekbones fractured. Though Lyman cannot recall the incident, she figures — with Critzer’s input — that the mere force of her hitting the ground, apparently face-first, did the primary damage. “There were no abrasions or bruising,” she said. “I don’t think the horses actually stepped on me at all.
“I know people are probably going to blame the horses for this,” she added. “I want to make clear it was nothing they did wrong, nothing I did wrong. It was just one of those things you can’t explain. It was something I’ve done, we’ve all done, three million and one times.”
Right now, Lyman has the help of her adult sons and daughter, all Rappahannock High School grads. Though she has been long separated from her husband, he is at the farm to help.
“I had blurry vision at first,” Lyman said of the slow road to recovery. “I couldn’t hear, either, because my ear canal was affected. But all that is slowly returning. My jaw was wired shut for four weeks. Soup was getting pretty old! It’s just one step at a time.
“I hope to be back hunting this fall,” she added, saying that the hope of returning to the hunt field, and horses, she loves so much was a compelling part of her recovery. “It’s just one day at a time, right now. I haven’t asked the doctors, yet, about riding again. They’d just say I was crazy.”
A plastic surgeon at Inova, Dr. Reza Mirali, told Lyman that it was her “general level of fitness” that made her recovery so swift. “Fortunately I’m fit,” she said. “Because of horses and gardening and an outdoor lifestyle. Even my job at Blue Ridge isn’t a ‘normal’ desk job. The nurses were amazed. I’m a 60-year-old woman, and they say I’m healing like a teen.”
Survivor of a brain aneurysm seven years ago, Lyman has experience with finding strength within, but also accepting support and help from friends and strangers alike.
A highly spiritual person, Lyman said she has spent the past 11 years in a recovered alcoholics support group. “There is something we say there,” she said. “Something about a ‘higher purpose,’ and about bringing meaning to things that happen to us. I am proud to be part of that group. I’m not whining about this, saying ‘why me?’ Instead, I’m trying to find the meaning behind it.
“Maybe I’m supposed to serve as that reminder to be very, very careful when working with horses, when working on a farm. Maybe learning about what happened to me will help someone else remember to be careful, and protect them. I want something to come of this, something positive. Because it sure does hurt right now.”
Still, as strong as Lyman likes to come across, she still dissolves into tears sometimes. “Tears of frustration, tears of pain, tears of anger, disappointment,” she said. “But tears of thanks, too. Happiness, respect and admiration for the friends who are coming together to help. I really am embarrassed by all the fuss. It’s a little overwhelming. I sure better make something come of this, to help others when I can.”
There will be a benefit dinner and auction this Sunday (June 27) at the Bull Run Hunt clubhouse south of Culpeper. The event runs from 4 to 8 p.m. and includes dinner, dancing to a live band and a silent auction with an array of items donated by friends and local businesses.
The event is being organized and sponsored by Donna Martin and her Blue Ridge Trailer Sales. “For more than eight years Tinker has been a pillar of this business,” Martin said. “She is involved in every sale and is often one of the chief reasons that a customer chooses to purchase a trailer here. [Her] ability to ask the right questions, to listen to a customer’s needs and to meet those needs is outstanding. Many of her customers end up as her permanent friends long after any sale.
“Tinker’s injuries would bring most people to their knees,” Martin said. “However, her stamina, willpower and strength of resolve [will] carry her through. We . . . marvel at her ability to get right back up and keep moving forward. We miss her and our business misses her.”
Call 434-985-4151 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to RSVP or for more information about the benefit.